The 95th Academy Awards had two notable absentees over the weekend: Tom Cruise and James Cameron. “The two guys who insisted we go to the theatre didn’t come to the theatre,” Kimmel joked about the pair’s impassioned push to get people back into the cinemas after the pandemic. What the host said next is probably the reason why Cruise was nowhere to be seen. “Everyone loved Top Gun, everyone! I mean, Tom Cruise with his shirt off in that beach football scene? L Ron hubba hubba,” Kimmel joked, referring to Scientology founder L Ron Hubbard and the controversial religion of which Cruise is an advocate.
Kimmel’s wife, executive producer Molly McNearney, has since said that her husband wouldn’t have made the joke in Cruise’s presence, which is revealing in itself, but for Cruise, why risk it? It’s not like he needs to get more famous – he literally could not get more famous. Instead, the actor was hanging out in London, attending Michael Caine’s 90th birthday party days later. It might have been the Alfie star’s big day, but the headlines were all about Cruise. What could be a better middle finger to the Academy than skipping Hollywood’s biggest night of the year to hang out with David Walliams and Denise Welch (Caine’s unlikely guests)? Cruise – Hollywood’s brightest star – is the measuring stick by which his peers are judged, and he chose one of the Loose Women over them!
Of course, none of this is incidental. Cruise has been giving a masterclass in reputational recovery for years now. In the Nineties and Noughties, a string of bizarre TV appearances and his penchant for raving about Scientology had made Cruise the butt of the joke. Twenty years later: he’s untouchable. While he didn’t attend the Oscars, Cruise did appease the Academy by appearing at their annual nominees’ luncheon. Genius. Every single report from the event detailed how the room “gravitated” around the Top Gun star. “I watched for a while as Elvis star Austin Butler drifted with slow, inexorable determination toward Cruise, who finally pulled the younger man towards him by clamping a hand on his shoulder like a stapler,” Kyle Buchanan wrote for The New York Times.
Cruise turned an event that was intended to celebrate the industry’s top talent into a meet-and-greet. At the luncheon, he could control his own narrative, with no presenters aiming for a cheap gag and no press able to get close enough to pry too deeply. The only clip from the event to suffuse into the public consciousness was Steven Spielberg telling the star that he’d “saved Hollywood’s ass” with Maverick. He couldn’t have asked for better PR.
When Cruise does appear for interviews these days, it’s on his terms with hosts that he likes. Graham Norton and James Corden, for some reason, appear to be the two that get the actor’s seal of approval. Perhaps Brits are less likely to have seen him jumping up and down on Oprah’s sofa in that catastrophic 2005 interview (or, at least, too polite to bring it up). He’s adored, too, by the British monarchy; not even Prince William is immune to Cruise’s star power. For those who would attempt to catch him out – by pointing out his unsavoury links to a cult or his history of criticising prescription medication – good luck getting the chance. This is Cruise’s town. We’re all just living in it.